The Truly Horrific Crime Scene Of Sharon Tate

Few crimes in history have brought about the end of an entire era, but that's what the murder of actress Sharon Tate did to the idyllic peace and love image of the 1960s. The Tate-LaBianca murders, as they came to be known, were crimes carried out by members of a cult headed by Charles Manson.

Tate was an actress and the wife of acclaimed — and eventually disgraced — film director Roman Polanski, responsible for the 1968 horror movie "Rosemary's Baby," which tragically pales in comparison to the horrors that unfolded in their Los Angeles home at 10050 Cielo Drive on an August night in 1969 (via Britannica).

The murders led to the imprisonment of Manson and four of his followers who were responsible for carrying out the killings that horrified the world. The house where the crimes took place is no longer standing, but its history of celebrity residents and tragic murder won't soon be forgotten.

Who was Sharon Tate?

According to The New York Times, Sharon Tate was born in 1943. Her father was an Army officer so the family moved around the country and even a little bit internationally, spending some time in Italy, where Tate attended high school (via another New York Times report). Tate was a beauty pageant champion in her teenage years, and by the early 1960s she was off to Hollywood where she snagged a recurring role on the sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies" and some smaller parts in films (via Biography). By the middle of the decade, Tate was appearing in more prominent film roles, including "The Valley of The Dolls" and "The Wrecking Crew," a 1968 comedy starring Dean Martin.

Tate was introduced to director Roman Polanski, who then put her in his film "The Fearless Vampire Killers." The two married in 1968, and the next year they became a major Hollywood power couple when Polanski's film "Rosemary's Baby" became a hit and made him one of the most sought-after directors in town.

Charles Manson and his family

In the 1960s, Charles Manson was a career criminal who made his way out to California, the counter-cultural epicenter of the United States. Something about Manson made certain people feel uneasy, but to others, he had a magnetic personality that allowed him to cultivate a following, consisting mostly of young, female runaways, per Biography.

The Manson family believed it was their duty to start a race war, which Manson referred to as a Helter Skelter, named after the Beatles song of the same name. Manson also believed the Beatles were trying to send him messages through their music.

The Manson family lived a communal lifestyle, taking up their most famous residence at Spahn Ranch, a faux Old West town used to shoot westerns. They also lived with Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson at the musician's house near the Sunset Strip (via Biography). Manson himself had musical aspirations and he tried to further his career by hobnobbing with the industry's movers. His goal of making it in music is somewhat related to why he ordered members of his family to murder those at 10050 Cielo Drive.

The house on Cielo Drive

The home that sat at 10050 Cielo drive until it was demolished in 1994 was a French-Normandy-style home that had enjoyed its fair share of celebrity inhabitants since the 1940s. The house was built in 1941 at the request of French actress Michèle Morgan. She was a big star in her home country — which she was forced to flee during World War II — but her career never quite took off the same way in the United States, per Curbed Los Angeles. The property contained two buildings, a 3,200-square-foot main house and a 2,000-square-foot guest residence behind it, and sat at the end of the street on a cul-de-sac.

The house eventually came under the ownership of Hollywood agent Rudolph Altobelli. He rented it out in the late '60s to record producer Terry Melcher, best known for his work with artists like the Byrds and Pat Boone, and his girlfriend, actress Candice Bergen. Melcher met Charles Manson at Dennis Wilson's house. Melcher rebuffed Manson's requests to sign him to a record deal, which prompted Manson to seek revenge by sending his followers to the house — only Melcher and Bergen no longer lived there, and the house had since been rented out to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate.

The murders

According to Britannica, on the night of August 9, 1969, Sharon Tate — eight-and-a-half-months pregnant at the time — was at the house along with her friend and former fiance, hairdresser Jay Sebring. According to The New York Times, Roman Polanski was out of town at the time, but also staying there were his friend, writer and photographer Wojciech Frykowski, and his girlfriend, coffee heiress Abigail Folger.

Manson had ordered five of his followers to go to the house and murder everyone there. One of those followers, Charles "Tex" Watson, later said the directive was to commit the murders as "as gruesome[ly] as you can," per Britannica.

The Manson followers consisted of Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian. They forced all of the home's occupants into the living room, where they tied Sebring and Tate together. Sebring was the first killed, but Frykowski and Folger managed to briefly escape, only to be chased down and killed by two cult members; Frykowski was stabbed some 50 times, and shot twice. Sharon Tate was stabbed to death — believed to have been at the hands of either Watkins or Atkins — which also killed her unborn child. As the murderers fled the scene, Atkins wrote the word "PIG" in the victims' blood on the home's front door. It's believed this was done to implicate the Black Panthers in the murders and incite Manson's prophesied race war. Similar steps were taken when cult members committed the LaBianca murders the following evening, per Vox.

The aftermath

According to History, suspicion didn't turn to the Manson family until one member who was in prison on completely unrelated charges started bragging about what the family had done at Cielo Drive. Susan Atkins was one of several members arrested at Spahn Ranch in connection with stealing cars, and eventually became suspected of involvement in another murder. While incarcerated she was overheard discussing the Tate-LaBianca murders. Manson was arrested, as were a number of his followers, and their trial began in 1970 and quickly stole front-page attention across the nation and around the world (via Britannica).

Linda Kasabian, who had been stationed at the front of the house as the group's lookout the night of the murder, was given immunity in exchange for her testimony against the other members. Manson, Atkins, Krenwinkel, Watson, and Leslie Van Houten (who had been involved in murdering the LaBiancas) were found guilty in 1971 and sentenced to death. However, all of those death sentences were commuted to life sentences in 1972 following a California state ban on the death penalty.

According to the Los Angles Times, Manson, who died in 2017, once told a cellmate that he and his followers had been responsible for as many as 35 murders, though this has never been substantiated. Manson was convicted of nine murders in total.